I hate Iranian music.
Or so I thought. Last night, somewhere between the mandatory, polite applause that pre-empted the screening of “No One Knows About Persian Cats” and the enthusiastic, deserved standing ovation that followed it, all of that changed.
It wasn’t so much the first half of the sentence that became obsolete but the second, as director Bahman Ghobadi clawed and chiseled through the veneered surface of misconception to reveal what music from Iran really is; a cultural core that is emanating from the underground and breeding against all odds with pure will as its only sustenance.
Through secret doorways to make-shift sub-terranean hideouts soundproofed with blankets and eggcarton-ed walls, Ghobadi’s permit-less cameras venture into an unseen and equally permit-less universe of musicians; the revelation of which immediately induced baffled and subtle head shaking from an audience that couldn’t reconcile the boundless talent with the bounded circumstances that birthed it.
Shot in a raw documentary style, this mostly true story follows Ashkan and Negar of the band ‘Take It Easy Hospital’, along a storyline light enough to have been narrated by real life and unobtrusive enough to allow the movie to serve as a showcase for the stars of Iran’s impossibly burgeoning indie rock, rap and metal scenes.
Guided by the remarkably amusing ‘Nader CD’, a DVD bootlegger and apparent fixer-of-all-things, the duo seek out other underground musicians in the hopes of building a band that will meet government requirements to be granted a permit to record and tour legally. This serves as the setting and welcome excuse to introduce us to the likes of Hichkas, TheYellowDogs, and other home-grown artists on their home turf and in rare taped performances that are layered with choppy, fast-paced scenes of a grimy Tehran that will be as unfamiliar to audiences as the muffled musical movement it barely contains.
Genre is as defied as the law, when we first hear the unmasked voice of a visually blurred Rana Farhan, a blues singer whose jazzy renditions of Rumi and Hafez are bellowed with a heaviness that seems to carry the weight of a nation’s collective sorrow.
By the time the movie runs its course, we’ve journeyed through a brand new spectrum of music whose palette though widely varied, is united by each artist’s inherent goodness, their beautiful struggle and the expansive conceptual gulf that separates them from the sugary Persian pop of a distressed and distant diaspora.
With all that said, its futile to attempt to say much more about this movie. The purity and fullness of the experience is non-transferable, and the need for every Iranian to see it for themselves is pretty much non-negotiable.
I can only say that I was inspired in a way I hadn’t been in a while. Inspired to find something new. Inspired to discover something old. It made me love being Iranian. It made me pity those that would never understand because they weren’t. Most of all, it reminded me how creative our culture has always been and that even in the dark, shuttered abyss of an unnourished underground, our people will always find a way to blossom.
I love Iranian music.